During the 80s and 90s the New Hollywood Renaissance had began reaching to its height with family films, notably revolving around science fiction, families, and either aliens or robots. The most well known of these kinds of films were ET and the Short Circuit Duology. But one under-appreciated film that combines both ideas in a story takes place in New York in a run-down apartment/diner, a group of its occupants, a sinister corporation and its leg breaking toadies, and a tiny family of saucer robots who fix things and eat electricity
This is the movie *batteries not included directed by Matthew Robins, this film was his debut as a screenwriter
Taking place in East Village in New York, the owner of the apartment/diner complex, Frank Riley(played by Hume Cronyn) struggles to keep the place from being torn down by property developers whose manager Lacey(played by Michael Greene) has hired a gang a thugs led by Carlos(played by Michael Carmine) to harass and loot the place to pressure the owner and his wife Faye(played by Hume’s wife Jessica Tandy) who unfortunately suffers dementia reliving the past. Also part of the apartment is a pregnant single mother Marisa Esteval(played by Elizabeth Peña), a struggling artist Mason Baylor(played by Dennis Boutsikaris) and quiet former boxing champion Harry Noble(played by Frank McRae). After Carlos tears up the diner and chases Franks friends out and the police are unable to act without Frank risking retribution, Frank quietly begs for someone to come and help them or face the possibility of him and Faye retreating to a retirement home.
The old couple are very sympathetic, especially Frank. He actually reminds me so much of my late grandfather on my Mother’s side. Frustrated and rightfully so with the despicable behavior of young people and the callous nature of those in charge while trying to make the best with his wife’s condition. As someone who has a grandmother on his father’s side suffering from mental deterioration, this hit me deep. Faye while suffering natural mental illness, she manages to retain cognitive thought to some degree, and her sympathy and never-ending compassion for her husband, the other occupants, and the Fix-Its. By being stuck in the past, she seems to produce some timeless wisdom that isn’t seen in this day and age.
Later that night, that plea Frank made was answered
Two small saucer-bots, who are later dubbed “The Fix-Its” fly into the home and the feminine one, exhausted and low on energy, plugs herself into the kitchen to recharge. Afterwards, they find one of the broken frames from the diner and fix it and find and fix the diner as well. Faye wakes up and is greeted by them, and she allows them to make a nest in the shack on the top of the building, which Frank and the others meet the morning after.
Mr. and Mrs. Fix-it are very cute, they seem to have a somewhat animal-like behavior, something I would compare to birds. They speak through whirring servos and bizarre sounds of beeps and various pitches of what sound like power-drills and buzzsaws
Later on its revealed that Mrs. Fix-It is “pregnant” as she is having cravings. So the folks of the apartment start feeding her all sorts of metal objects and a steady flow of electricity which results in her birthing three “baby” robots. Jetsom, Flotsom, and Wheems, the last seemingly stillborn, only to be resuscitated by Harry using parts of his TV set. The robot family helps fix the apartment and in turn the occupants provide them shelter and babysit the little ones which is provided by Mason, Marisa, and Harry.
The children are even cuter than their parents, and like they’re parents they have behavior akin to birds, chicks to be specific. They don’t do too much like their parents, but they don’t need to. The babies, Wheems to be precise, have a role to play later on. As Carlos damages the father and scares away the children and burns the apartment down, the former seemly drives the family away when they are reunited, but later revealed that Wheems returns to try to fix the apartment by himself, only to be joined by his family who were actually getting help as they return with an entire fleet of their kind to rebuild the ruins. The Development company concedes defeat and merely builds around the apartment
Now the plot, there isn’t much but it mostly revolves around the humans. It’s revealed later in the story that Faye and Frank’s son had died in a car crash some time ago and Frank had some very rough words with their son before. Faye seems to mistake Carlos for his son, but it’s never clear if this denial is deliberate or not, but I assume it partially to cling on to what cognitive function she has left and even by the end of the film we don’t know if there’s some resolution.
But I can’t help but feel the real issue I have with this story is Mason as his personality is rather inconsistent when interacting with the Fix-Its. At one point he is completely flabbergasted by their ability to reproduce, then he’s quick to dismiss a tragic stillbirth from the same little robots, and soon enough he’s the babysitter of the little tykes. I just cannot help but feel Mason’s character development wasn’t thought out in terms of chronological order. Meanwhile his love story with Marisa and his search of artistic inspiration while not bad in concept, doesn’t show too much in development, it just goes along a bit too quickly.
Speaking of Marisa, the biological father of her children happens to be a musician who’s part of something I would call a modern caravan, but sadly her story in regards of her pregnancy or her quasi-deadbeat boyfriend even gets less attention than Mason and Mr. and Mrs. Riley
Carols seems like a stereotypical hooligan, but it seems more like he’s a desperate man trying to get his own decent lifestyle as he lives in the Ghettos of New York, unfortunately they only explore this once with his interaction with Faye but once again the audience seems to be left guessing on what exactly his deal is, but we at least see he has regrets as he desperately tries to save Faye from the fire that engulfs the complex.
The whole film seems enjoyable in terms of the major overarching plot and the moments with the Fix-It family, but sadly the subplots seem to me a bit sub-par. I believe the reason this is due to the overarching plot taking up too much space for the sub-plots to have the proper pacing they need.
The Fix-It family was designed by Star Wars designer Ralph Mcquarrie and The legendary Industrial Light and Magic
The Music composed by James Horner
Would I recommend this film, yes. I really do love this movie in regards to overarching plot and the adorable robots, but I would request that you don’t put too much thought into the sub-plots. For me at least they don’t seem to do get much developed and left either resolved too quickly, or left with a rather nebulous conclusion.
I give *batteries not included Seven Comedy Masks out of Ten